A Grand Christmas Table

There is a tradition in Sweden of a julbord, or a Christmas table, where all the traditional Christmas foods are laid out and eaten in a gastronomic display of elegance and fortitude that can test the mettle of any person.

The lights in Kungsträdgården

For our trial by taste, my partner had selected two restaurants. The first was meant to be at Fjäderholmarnas krog, located on the closest island in the Stockholm archipelago, but those plans were thwarted by the poor coordination of Icelandair and their decision to leave us languishing on that frozen island. Our second table, now only, would be at the Grand Hotel, the “fanciest hotel in Stockholm” as my partner would say, at their restaurant Verandan or The Veranda.

We arrived a couple minutes early and brought our coats to the coat check, even got a little tag. It all felt very fancy. We waited near the doors, sitting on a blue velvet tufted couch, and I was quite excited for all that would be in store. I’d heard tales of a hundred different flavors of pickled herring, smoked fish galore, cold cuts of every animal, mountains of meatballs.

It felt a bit intimidating, being surrounded by all these well dressed individuals, not knowing the rituals that they all had perfected. Personally, I struggle with feeling in place at these high brow locales and my anxieties were in full bloom.

Our server came by, asking if we would have still water or sparkling, and although I was able to order still as I prefer, I think he may have noticed my mild panic as I have hardly used my Swedish since our last visit a year and a half ago, and which had not really improved. He came back to the table and suggested perhaps at this table, he would speak English. It’s demoralizing, as I only get to practice so often, but honestly it was probably for the best. He did bring over a small booklet detailing the history and practices of julbord as it turns out there is a right way to eat it.

The basic flow is to start with the pickled herring with crisp bread and snaps, a strongly botanical alcoholic drink taken in small glasses. Second course is for fish. Next is cold cuts and courses. After, one proceeds to the hot dishes. Finally, dessert.

Thus armed with a method to the madness, I began my pilgrimage, making sure to take a new plate each trip, of course.

First trip

Starting from the fork, going clockwise: mustard and coffee herring (quite tasty), saffron herring (quite good), onion herring (quite tasty), herring casserole (alright), boiled potatoes with dill (lovely), cured salmon (who doesn’t like gravlax?), cold smoked salmon (bit smoky for my taste), and preserved salmon with lemon cream (which I absolutely distasteful).

A classic choice

With our handy booklet as guide, I knew it was traditional to enjoy some snaps with the herring. I did not know what sort to try though. I have had Bäska droppar, not the most high brow offering. The server recommended O. P. Anderson. It is so strong and ice cold, I shivered every time I took a drink.

Second trip

Starting from the top, going clockwise: old man’s mix (I didn’t enjoy it, it was quite salty), red beet salad (delicious but hiding apples my partner discovered and I picked out), more salmon (it’s delicious), hot smoked salmon (delightful), hot smoked arctic char (alright), green and orange sauce (mysterious and scrumptious), and potato salad with capers (tasty).

Optional course: Lutfisk

Lutefisk is stockfish which has been dried, cured with lye, and then rehydrated. The texture is gelatinous and it has very little flavor. The server came by to ask if we would like to have some as it was available but not in the buffet. Having been traumatized by the smell of cooking lutefisk in the past, my partner would not partake but I opted in. It was served with cream sauce, bacon, and pea purée and honestly what could taste bad with these tasty accompaniments? Delicious.

Third trip

From the top: Christmas ham, three mustards, mild, whole grain, and grand hotel mustard (the hotel mustard was the best, very flavorful), brown cabbage (didn’t like it, it tasted strongly of cinnamon and cloves), Jansson’s frestelse or Jansson’s temptation (something akin to a potato and onion gratin (lovely)), and meatballs with lingonberries (a classic, honestly just great).


From the top: dark chocolate bark (lovely with a slight taste), rice pudding with mandarin orange slice (very nice), meringue (I always like the idea more than the actual thing), a mint kiss (mint and chocolate: best friends), polkagris (swedish candy akin to a candy cane), a gingerbread cupcake (fluffy and pleasantly spiced), knäck (a slightly soft toffee), and a dark chocolate truffle (delightful).

A tasty Swedish cider
A Christmas must

Although I did not drink it myself, I include julmust as it is a particular Swedish tradition. 11 months of the year Coca-Cola is the most popular drink in Sweden but for the month of December, julmust reigns supreme. It’s difficult to translate but the taste is mostly similar to the medicine robitussen and only slightly carbonated. If you like Dr Pepper, you might like this.

After all these fine offerings, we congratulated ourselves on conquering the julbord and made our way back home.

At which point we convinced ourselves we would take only a small nap. When we woke several hours later, it was clear. Julbord: 1, Us: 0.


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